Clarence Carter “The Fame Singles Volume 1 1966-70” (Kent CDKEND 376
By Pete Nickols
Tell Daddy; I Stayed Away Too Long; Thread The Needle; Don’t Make My Baby Cry; She Ain’t Gonna Do Right; The Road Of Love; Looking For A Fox; I Can’t See Myself (Crying About You); Funky Fever; Slip Away; Too Weak To Fight; Let Me Comfort You; Back Door Santa; That Old Time Feeling; Snatching It Back; Making Love (At The Dark End Of The Street); The Feeling Is Right; You Can’t Miss What You Can’t Measure; Doin’ Our Thing; I Smell A Rat; Take It Off Him And Put It On Me; The Few Troubles I’ve Had; I Can’t Leave Your Love Alone; Devil Woman.
With so much early attention understandably given to previously unheard demos and unissued material from the Fame catalogue, Kent have now decided to make available straight reissues of all Clarence Carter’s released singles, here, in Volume 1, concentrating on his 24 Fame single-sides between 1966 and 1970.
I am sure Kent have produced these in as fine a sound-quality as is possible from the original tapes to which they had access but, for long-in-the-tooth soul CD collectors, there is nothing here which has not previously been issued in this format, chiefly via US Rhino/UK Sequel’s 1992 set “Snatching It Back” plus Sequel’s reissue in 1996 of four CDs covering four separate Carter albums, each with added ‘bonus’ tracks.
That’s not to say that there aren’t sufficient people around now who won’t have the earlier reissues, nor that the quality of the soul on offer doesn’t warrant another listen. I’m sure there are and it does. Carter was a fine musician, songwriter and consummate southern-soul vocalist. Few were better at singing a cheating southern ballad or a sex-slanted, cheeky slab of soul – and his trademark ‘down and dirty’ evil laugh only added extra spice to many of his performances.
Everyone will have their own favourite from this fine selection – mine is “Back Door Santa”, with Clarence regularly servicing the ladies while their own menfolk are ‘out to play’. Double-entendre 60’s soul lyrics simply don’t get any better than “I ain’t like old St. Nick, he don’t come but once a year”. And with Clarence’s laugh suitably modified to a very evil, quasi-festive “Ho, Ho Ho”, you just know he’s revelling in this wonderfully risqué storyline. I often wonder if his writing of the song was influenced by the superb old Willie Dixon blues which he penned for Howlin’ Wolf, “Back Door Man”.
In similar vein is “I Smell A Rat”, though this time this cheery, bouncy opus is sung from the viewpoint of one of the guys whose partner is doubtless regularly enjoying clandestine visits by that ‘Back Door Santa’. Then there’s the fine, rolling-paced cheating song with a title that itself tells you all you really need to know, “You Can’t Miss What You Can’t Measure” – a title George Clinton would later conveniently acquire for a song he co-penned for his group Funkadelic.
It’s also a mark of Carter’s songwriting ability that so many of his fine originals here also saw good later release by others. The driving and very impressive “Tell Daddy”, the earliest track on offer, was turned by Etta James (as “Tell Mama”) into a key performance for which she would always be remembered; the lovely melodic soul-ballad “I Stayed Away Too Long” attracted very good covers from the Wallace Brothers and Solomon Burke; the terrific mid-pacer “That Old Time Feeling” got similarly impressive treatment from the one-time Mrs Carter, Candi Staton; “The Road Of Love”, one of Clarence’s finest examples of soulful blues, complete with some great guitar work from Duane Allman, also saw 1969 release by Ted Taylor on Ronn; the lovely deep ballad “I Can’t See Myself” received a very good cover from Willie Johnson on Future Stars in 1975; and the catchy mid-pacer “Too Weak To Fight” attracted versions by Eddie Floyd and the great Ella Washington.
“Slip Away” is another great Carter rolling mid-pacer, which he did indeed write and was originally intended to be merely the ‘B’ side of “Funky Fever”. Carter gave his authorship rights away to three friends who needed some money, not expecting the song to end up becoming the big-selling side of the single.
Penn & Oldham’s “She Ain’t Gonna Do Right” had been first commercially recorded by Wilson Pickett at Fame in May ’66 and would also be well tackled (although unissued at the time) by the Purifys in November ‘67. These two versions were slower, deeper and more emotive than Carter’s bouncier interpretation. George Jackson and Mickey Buckins wrote “The Feeling Is Right”, which Jackson demoed at Fame before Clarence cut it. Doris Duke would include it on her terrific “I’m A Loser” Canyon album and her version saw single release too. The same two writers were also party to “Take It Off Him And Put It On Me” which Veda Brown duly covered for Stax in 1972 as “Take It Off Her”. “The Few Troubles I’ve Had” is another humourous offering from Carter but the mournful original (titled simply “Trouble I’ve Had”) had been cut by its writer, Clarence Ashe, for J&S (and then Chess) back in 1964.
There’s so many good tracks here that I don’t intend to discuss them all. If you like southern-soul, most of these are essential to your collection. There’s just one, however, which I personally have always hated and regard as nothing less than the ruination of a classic deep-soul ballad, namely Carter’s rap-dominated revamping of “The Dark End Of The Street” as “Making Love (At the Dark End Of The Street)”. We get 2 mins 50 seconds of Clarence describing how wild horses, cows and mosquitos – as well as humans – like to make love (just too cringe-making to even be humourous to my ears) before we get 55 seconds of a sung but still rather oddly reinterpreted version of part of Penn and Moman’s great song. “The Few Troubles I’ve Had” is also chiefly Clarence ‘rapping’ but at least this one somehow comes across as a nice mix of melancholy and humour. Anyway, I have no wish to end on a negative note as this excellent CD should certainly find its way into your library unless you’ve already got ‘all the tracks on your racks’.